Along with some of our university colleagues, we were invited by our university to attend a special dinner for foreign experts who are living and working in China. We arrived in buses and, for our benefit, the entire highway was shut down on the way to the dinner, which was held at The Great Hall of the People adjacent to Tiananmen Square. Some 2,000 foreign experts were in attendance and treated to an amazing dinner and speech from Vice Premier Han Zheng. He praised foreign experts for assisting the country of China in reaching its current strength and status on the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party in China.
At our table was a couple from the Ukraine, a woman from Mexico City, a man from the UK, a man from Russia, another American man, and two Chinese hosts. We had a delightful time getting to know them. Unfortunately, cameras and cell phones were not allowed in the hall. We did get pictures of our group at the university and outside the hall.
Incidentally, after the dinner the entire crowd exited the doors to the front of the hall, while I (Chuck) slipped into a restroom at the rear of the hall, behind some heavy curtains. I was there for just a few moments when an entourage of young men in business suits wearing ear buds entered the restroom with the Vice Premier himself. I was surprised and could only think to say, “Hi” to him. Afterwards I exited, holding open the curtain for him as we walked out together. I remember thinking, “Why are these security men allowing me to be so close to the Vice Premier.” Then I remembered the worried looks on their faces. Obviously, this bathroom break was unplanned and worrisome to those whose job it was to keep him safe. I caught them off-guard.
As native English speakers associated with a university, we were asked to record English dialogue (so far about eight hours’ worth). Apparently, the recordings will be used to test candidates who want to work for BMW to make sure their English is “up to snuff.” We had fun doing the recordings, and may do more . . if asked. It is difficult to cold-read a script, especially when the vocabulary gets into scientific terms. However, we did not have to do too much re-recording, as we soon became familiar with the process.
To top off our 17-day trip, we landed in Bangkok for a few days before coming back to Beijing. We stayed at Legacy Suites Hotel in the financial district of Bangkok at the recommendation of some friends who had stayed one night there. It was a beautiful, spacious hotel, but we discovered it was in the middle of a “red light district.” We did go away from the area for some fun experiences. We went to a cultural show one evening that was astounding in the way it was performed. Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed. We also toured the river and canals via long-boat.
Prior to our cruising adventure, we spent a few days in Singapore. What a delightful place! We lucked out in our choice of hotels when we stayed at the Nostalgia Hotel, which was located on the edge of a residential area. Consequently, we had quick access to a community eatery that served delicious local cuisine. And the best part–it was only a few dollars per meal. Needless to say, we wandered over to the eatery several times per day.
Singapore has a very diverse population, very livable weather year-round, and very few natural disasters. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the local citizens we came across (at least in the area of our hotel) spoke a mixture of English, Cantonese, and Mandarin . . which happens to coincide exactly with my own current linguistic state. It felt like heaven.
The following are excerpts from an email we sent to fellow China teachers, Brigg and Janet Steele. They are considering a sailing cruise and wanted to know what we thought. Check out the pics below too.
Hi Brigg and Janet,
As promised, I’m going to give a little de-brief of our cruise.
I’m doing this also for my own benefit to gather my thoughts about the
The first day, our cruise officer told us to take everything
we know about cruising and throw it out the window. He said, “think of this as
a sailing adventure, not a cruise.” And he was correct. There were no casinos,
professional entertainers, on-board high-end shops, etc. We’ve been on cruises
that felt like we were simply riding in a floating shopping mall. This was
The Ship: Our ship was the Star Clipper, built in 1992. It was approx.. 366 feet long, weighing almost 2,300 tons. It is a four-masted, six-sailed ship. The passenger list was only 152 people, with 78 crew members. On board was a good-sized dining hall, small shop for incidentals, library, tropical bar, piano bar, three small “cooling off” pools, and plenty of deck space. The cabins were similar to what we’ve experienced on other cruise ships—smallish yet comfortable and well-maintained. Our cabin’s port-hole was at water level, which was a bit freaky at first, but we discovered we loved being so close to the water. In fact, the whole experience was one in which you feel closer to the ocean than you would on a large cruise ship. We fell in love with that. Yes, with a smaller vessel you feel the constant rocking of the waves, but we didn’t have any trouble. We did notice other passengers with motion sickness patches behind their ears. To us, the constant motion felt more like a soothing, “rock you to sleep” experience. We had some great food in the dining hall, and it was nutritious and healthy besides. We didn’t feel “yucky” at all after 7 days. It was wonderful. One very telling thing: of the 152 passengers, 54 were repeat customers!
The Crew: The relationship with captain and crew was
significantly different as a passenger on the Star Clipper vs. large cruise
ships. We were encouraged to come to the bridge any time and see how to
navigate, help crew members hoist sails, and ask questions of the officers. One
officer did a daily briefing with very interesting stories about sailing and
information about the area we were sailing. We felt we were participating in an
ancient form of transportation, and gained an appreciation for their skill.
The Voyage: Our 7 nights included just one full day
at sea. The other days involved time on various small islands, most often
un-inhabited islands. We started at Benoa Port in Bali, sailed east around the
big islands of Lombok, Sumbawa in the archipelago and included Komodo Island as
our most easterly island. Most of the excursions on this easterly route were
simply hiking, sightseeing, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, small sail-boating,
etc. as the ship would pull up near a small island and we would be tendered out
to the beach, requiring a “wet landing” from off the tender. We saw some of the
most beautiful sites and had a wonderful time on our excursions. We were able
to see Komodo Dragons while being protected by armed rangers (they are deadly).
We parked in the waters a mile from a belching volcano and witnessed the most
active volcanic zone in the world. When the cruise goes West, the excursions
are more the type you see from other cruise ships, where you pay local
companies for tours. But on the route we took, it was less about the paid
excursions and more about simply enjoying yourself on the islands on your own.
The ship provided all the equipment for some fun activities.
The Experience: Our eyes were certainly opened to
this kind of cruising, and we feel like most the other passengers onboard—we
want to do it again. In fact, we’re going to keep our eyes open for this same
ship or same cruise line sailing around the islands of Thailand. A ship this
size meant much less dealing with large numbers of fellow passengers and other
cruise ship passengers. We saw sights that would have been impossible to see
from a large cruise ship. The ship was small enough to provide these
opportunities while large enough to make the experience fun while onboard as
well. This kind of cruising is more about experiencing the sea and less about
having all of life’s distractions at your finger-tips. We highly recommend it!
The hotel description said, “3 minute walk to the Monkey Forest.” We thought it would be a great chance to see wildlife in Bali while we stayed a few days prior to our cruise. Little did we know just how up-close and personal our experiences with monkeys would be.
We might have gotten a clue when our hostess, showing us the villa accommodations, pointed out the sling-shot provided to each room. These were for our convenience to chase any monkeys away from our villa. It soon became obvious that monkeys do not read signs to know where the monkey habitat begins and ends.
At one point, we were visiting a Hindu temple and saw a monkey walking around with a very expensive pair of sunglasses. This put us all on edge as we quickly removed our glasses and put them away. However, Rob later decided he wanted to see something and put on his glasses. Very quickly, a monkey jumped up on his shoulder and grabbed the glasses off of his face. He managed to grab them, however, leaving the monkey with just the rubber covering that protected Rob’s ear from the wire piece. The monkey sat there chewing on this rubber piece. Rob was glad he still had his glasses for the remainder of the trip.
One day we walked about 15 minutes around the fenced perimeter of the monkey forest to a grocery store. Seeing a rotisserie chicken for sale at the store, we decided to buy it and bring it back to our room. What were we thinking? A local, sitting on the sidewalk, looked at us and said, “That will not work.” He was absolutely correct. There was no way we were going to get that chicken past the monkeys to our room, so we bundled it up in a canvas backpack and hoped the monkeys couldn’t smell it. As we entered the monkey area, two monkeys were on a tree limb directly above us, watching us carefully. Somehow we got it past them and all the way to our room.
Prior to our 7-day sailing cruise, we decided to spend three
days in Bali itself. We are so glad we did. Not only did we see some amazing
sights, we also learned something about the strength of family and faith. It
was a lesson we’ll never forget.
While Indonesia as a whole is largely Muslim, the people of Bali are largely Hindu (83%). We arrived at Bali’s Denpasar airport late at night and saw no hint of the magic that awaited us. Our driver drove through non-descript streets for over an hour before arriving at a narrow, unlit alleyway in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. We exchanged some worried glances at each other, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. After all, we had not relied on any recommendations to choose our hotel . . only those on Hotels.com.
We needn’t have worried. No, we were not at a major hotel,
but we did manage to snag the coziest slice of paradise on Bali. The 11-room Bali
Bohemian turned out to be a destination unto itself. The friendly night hostess
greeted us with smiles, a cool mint drink, and no urgency to run our credit
card or even discuss money. “Let’s just worry about that tomorrow when you’re
rested,” she said. Who DOES that? We were very impressed.
She walked us around a beautifully lit pool into our villa,
an eclectic and authentic Bali experience. As she showed us around, one of the
most notable items in our room was a sling-shot. She explained that it was
because of the monkeys. If we should ever need the sling-shot, we could simply
point it at a monkey and pretend it was loaded. The monkey would scamper off. I
smiled, thinking this was a quaint “gimmick” to impress visiting tourists.
The next day, we learned how practical those sling-shots
were. The online listing for the villa mentioned a nearby “Monkey Forest” that
was within walking distance. In reality, the monkey forest was literally adjacent
to our villa and we also learned that monkeys do not care about signs or
fences. They were an amusing and sometimes exciting punctuation to our trip.
Our time in Bali was dreamy, to say the least. We thoroughly
enjoyed visiting various temples, waterfalls, woodcrafting shops, painting
shops, jewelry shops, coffee plantations, and much more. Everywhere we went in residential
areas, we noticed very ornate architecture and decorative elements. One day,
our driver/guide was driving in an area and said, “I live right over there.” We
were impressed with this driver and his gentle spirit. He then asked if we
would like to come see his home. We jumped at the chance.
Every home in Bali consists of a walled compound in which ornate
pavilions are carefully placed. The way these structures are laid out is
determined by culture and religious conviction. Each home has a pavilion for
the grandparents, a sleeping pavilion, a kitchen pavilion and some kind of
ceremonial hall. In addition, each home has its own temple. These properties are
not simple; they’re extravagant and well-maintained.
Multiple generations occupy the same property and the strength that comes from participating in daily religious rituals and having strong family support is obvious in Balinese society. Balinese people who are blessed to enjoy these strengths are largely protected from the difficulties we’ve seen in other Asian and western countries. We felt humbled and blessed to have witnessed this strength in action. The abundance felt by all family members seemed much higher than one would expect in a country with meager incomes.
The experience reminded us how faith and family can work together to bring greater abundance and prosperity.
We passed through the world’s most active volcano zone and were not disappointed. The ship parked about a mile away from an active, belching volcano. We saw several smoke eruptions before we set sail again. See the ship’s captain (below) checking out the progress of an eruption.